Give, Give, Give, Then Get

zen general

I’ve decided to try an experiment lately. At every opportunity where I see I can possibly add value to someone in some way, I try to do so.

This can mean connecting someone with someone else I know, sharing insights from experiences I’ve had that may be applicable, or even mini-projects that leverage my technical skills.

Like any other behavior change, this is a habit that takes some work to build, so I’m not 100% ramped up yet, but at least the habit is building, so hopefully after a few weeks it will just be my default behavior.

Anyway, I’ve had a few interesting observations about it:

First, it’s fun! It’s fun to give presents to family and friends, and it’s fun to give gifts of value — in whatever form is available — to the people around you. It just makes you feel good and more connected. I like that.

Second, it works best if you give without feeling any sense of debt or “you owe me” from the other person. The desire to reciprocate is one of our most fundamental traits as human beings, but I find if I expect nothing when trying to add value, it feels more pure and human. For some reason there is just nothing more creepy than the person who does a favor for you with the subtle undercurrent of agenda.

Third, it eventually works its way back to you. Sometimes it takes hours, weeks, or months. Sometimes it comes from people you didn’t even directly help. But when you get it, you feel you feel like you deserve it. Someone else does something nice for you, and you feel great because you’re both better off as a result of knowing each other.

I’m sure this idea is as old as time, but at least some contemporaries put it out there, too.

There’s one other interesting corollary to this that I learned recently, and it’s a crazy, ridiculous idea:

Take responsibility for literally everything in the world.

I got it from an online course in personal development I took. The idea is that even when your’re responsible for something, you still have limited action. If you’re responsible for running an insurance company, you still can’t prevent earthquakes. But if you’re responsible for watching a baby, you can do a good job of that.

You can take responsibility for ANYTHING. But when it comes time to act, you can’t do everything.

So, if you choose to take responsibility for everything around — how hungry someone is, how much work the person next to you is getting done, how happy your friend is, how successful your colleague is — you soon realize that you can’t possibly do everything for everyone but there’s a lot you can do for a lot of people that’s within your power.

The author of the course argued — correctly, in my opinion — that it turns you on to life, instead of away from life.


  • Give before you get
  • Give without expecting anything back
  • But high-five yourself when something does come back to you
  • Turn on to life by taking responsibility for everything around you
  • …even while recognizing that there’s only so much you can do.


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